By Ahammad Foyez on Apr 10, 2023 Benar News
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday called the country’s leading national daily an “enemy of the people” and claimed Washington was working to bring an undemocratic party to power in Bangladesh in the upcoming election.
The unusually strong remarks to Bangladesh’s parliament came on the same day U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was hosting Dhaka’s top diplomat, A. K. Abdul Momen, at the Department of State in Washington.
While speaking in parliament, Hasina, leader of the Awami League party, did not name which so-called undemocratic party she believed the United States wanted in power.
“America can change power in any country it wants. [They] want to bring such a government here which will not have any democratic existence,” she said.
Hasina also accused Washington of supporting corrupt people in Bangladesh.
“[The U.S.] is speaking against corruption. Now it can be seen that it is advocating on behalf of those convicted in corruption case[s],” she said.
Again, Hasina did not name which people, although the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairwoman Khaleda Zia has been convicted in two graft cases. An ailing Khaleda’s prison term has been suspended since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S. has in recent months urged Bangladesh to ensure free and fair elections, amid reports of the government muzzling critics and the opposition. The election is scheduled for December or January 2024.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement congratulating Bangladesh on its Independence Day also urged a commitment to democratic norms and human rights. Some observers said this was unusual for a communiqué of this kind.
On Monday, the top U.S. top diplomat again referenced the Bangladesh elections.
He told his Bangladesh counterpart Momen that Washington was “committed to continuing to work together, to find ways to strengthen and deepen the relationship, to address as well economic development and human rights.”
“And of course, we’re looking – the world is looking – to Bangladesh for its next elections, to make sure that they set a strong example for free and fair elections for the region and for the world,” Blinken said, according to a State Department statement on remarks exchanged by the two diplomats before their meeting in Washington.
For his part, Momen said that Bangladesh had sacrificed millions of lives for “independence, for upholding democracy, human rights, justice, and human dignity.”
Former Bangladesh diplomat M. Humayun Kabir, who has served as envoy to the United States, told BenarNews that Hasina’s comments show there could be a communication gap between the two countries.
“The remarks of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made it clear that there is a huge gap of understanding between Washington and Dhaka,” he said.
“But this is not a proper time to say anything about the ultimate relations between the nations, I think we need to observe it more closely.”
Remarks against national daily
Hasina also slammed a leading Bangla daily news organization.
“Prothom Alo is an enemy of the Awami League, Prothom Alo is an enemy of democracy and Prothom Alo is an enemy of the country’s people,” she said.
The daily was last month hit with two cases under the draconian Digital Security Act, for allegedly “undermining the country’s independence.”
A correspondent for the daily was arrested – and later released on bail – for his report which quoted a daily laborer as saying, “We need independence guaranteeing fish, meat and rice.”
The daily’s editor was also slapped with charges under the act for the report which was published on Bangladesh’s Independence Day.
Prothom Alo Executive Editor Sajjad Sharif told BenarNews that the daily had little to say about the PM’s remarks.
“[W]e are doing our journalism maintaining all professional ethics. We have no favor or conflict with any political parties,” he said.
Hours after Hasina’s comment four people entered the office building of the news outlet shouting “Boycott Prothom Alo.” The building’s security guard, Mesbaul Haque, told BenarNews no police complaint was registered as Prothom Alo dismissed it as a “small incident.”
‘Favorite person of the US’
Hasina’s targets on Monday also included 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner and Grameen Bank Founder Muhammad Yunus, who is often openly vilified by her government.
He [Yunus] is a very favorite person of the U.S. The country never raised the question of how this person, who was the managing director of Grameen Bank … got millions of dollars,” she said.
“Did they [the U.S.] ever want to know from where the managing director, who used to draw a salary from the government, got millions of dollars? They didn’t.”
Yunus and some of his colleagues from Grameen Telecom, a company he founded, are being investigated by Bangladesh’s anti-graft agency for alleged involvement in laundering money to the tune of U.S. $300 million (31.8 billion taka), and embezzling from the employees’ welfare fund.
Last month, 40 global public figures, including rock singer Bono and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, had urged Bangladesh to stop harassing the Nobel laureate.
In an open letter, they said Yunus had not benefited financially from his involvement in the company.
“Rather, he has devoted himself to the poverty-fighting missions of the many organizations he has established and lives modestly in Dhaka,” the letter said.
This story has been updated with comments made on Monday by the top diplomats of the United States and Bangladesh.